Cybercrime threat in Germany higher than ever before

The main reasons for the rise are the growing professionalisation of cybercriminals, more digital networking and the spread of vulnerabilities in IT products, the BSI said in its report. EPA-EFE/Georg Wenzel / POOL [Georg Wenzel/EPA]

Threat levels for IT security in Germany are higher than ever before as cyberthreats increase and cybercriminals become increasingly professional, according to the IT Security Situation Report 2021 published by the Federal Office Information Security (BSI) on Thursday (21 October). EURACTIV Germany reports.

“In the area of information security, we are on red alert, at least in some areas. Our situation report makes that very clear” BSI president Arne Schönbohm told a press conference.

The report shows a significant expansion of cybercriminal extortion methods known as ransomware attacks, and a dramatic increase in new variants of malware, software designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorised access to a computer system.

Between May 2020 and May 2021, 144 million new variants were identified, a 22% increase compared to the same period of the previous year.

In the same period, there was also an exponential increase in bot infections, which cybercriminals use to remotely access computer systems and send spam messages or paralyse online services through mass access.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer believes that the threat will continue to grow over the next few years because increased digitalisation globally is giving cybercriminals more opportunities to attack.

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Why the spike?

The main reasons for the rise are the growing professionalisation of cybercriminals, more digital networking and the spread of vulnerabilities in IT products, the BSI said in its report.

This professionalisation is visible through the spread of increasingly sophisticated service products that are offered illegally on the dark web, among other things. This is leading to an increase in the quality of cyberattacks with their impact also becoming more dramatic, the report states.

The threat situation is also intensifying due to increased networking because the “dependencies and complexities that go hand in hand with this bring considerable dangers,” Schönbohm said.

Also a cause for concern are the vulnerabilities in IT products as attacks on IT service providers can trigger a chain reaction, the BSI report added.

This was the case, for example, with the Microsoft Exchange Server vulnerability that became known in December 2020. According to the report, 98% of all tested systems were exposed because of such vulnerabilities.

The alarm is also being sounded by digital association Bitkom.

“The force with which ransomware attacks in particular are shaking our economy is worrying and affects businesses of all sectors and sizes,” said Susanne Dehmel, a member of the Bitkom management board.

According to a study by Bitkom, the damage caused by cyberattacks and extortion has increased by 358% since 2019. Meanwhile, 86% of German companies have already been targets of cyberattacks, and every tenth company sees its existence threatened by potential future attacks.

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More measures

Seehofer stated that the outgoing conservative government has sought “to massively strengthen cyber security in our country,” referring to the IT Security Act 2.0, which was passed in May and increased the BSI’s staff and assigned new competences.

From June 2020 to May 2021, 44,000 emails were intercepted in government networks that were infected with malware, and the government also blocked 74,000 websites because they contained malware.

But with the report predicting the threat situation to worsen in the coming years, more policy action is needed.

“We cannot continue as before. Information security is the prerequisite for successful and sustainable digitalisation,” said BSI President Schönbohm.

Internet association eco also called for efforts to be ramped up.

“Both the private and public sectors must give IT security top priority even more intensively than before,” Norbert Pohlmann, eco’s board member for IT security, told EURACTIV.

Cybersecurity must be a top priority for the upcoming coalition in Germany “so that digitalisation can also succeed,” Pohlmann continued.

Ahead of the start of the coalition talks that started Thursday, the Social Democrats (SPD), the business-friendly FDP and the Greens – who are expected to form a so-called “traffic light” coalition – have agreed to focus on improving capabilities and structures to defend against cyberattacks and put cybersecurity on a new legal footing.

It also appears likely that the competences of the BSI could be further expanded. FDP technology policy spokesman Mario Brandenburg has called for the BSI to be expanded into an independent authority and equipped to react more quickly to dangerous situations.

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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